Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults in the United States, and, even though it is highly treatable, only about 1 in 3 affected people get treatment .
It is important to consult your primary care clinician about your feelings and get help. These natural hacks work best when you have been screened first by a knowledgeable physician.
Anxiety is a form of stress, it causes the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. They give you a quick boost of energy when you need to flee a dangerous situation. The problem is your body doesn’t know the difference between an overwhelming day and being chased by a deadly beast. For this reason, your cortisol levels can remain at “high alert” status even when you are just feeling a little anxious and are not actually in danger. This is an unfortunate artifact of our ancient nervous system. Over time, chronically high cortisol levels can stress your adrenal glands, create hormonal imbalances, increase your blood pressure, belly fat, sugar cravings, and insulin levels.
Before you start feeling anxious about this too, don’t worry! 5 anxiety hacks will help you get yourself into a healthier anxiety-free state of mind naturally.
Anxiety Hack 1: Avoid Blood Sugar Dips
When you go too long without eating, it can cause you to feel anxiety-like symptoms simply because your brain isn’t receiving enough glucose to function properly . For some people, balancing blood sugar levels is enough to get rid of their anxiety completely. Just like your car needs fuel to run properly, so does your brain, and it is important not to dismiss the importance of regular and nutrient-dense eating.
What to do: Eating small protein/fat snacks throughout the day. Nothing works better than clean protein to stabilize your blood sugar. I keep almonds and macadamia nuts in my purse and car.
Anxiety Hack 2: Stop Drinking Coffee
When you first drink a cup of coffee, your adrenaline and epinephrine levels go up, this is why you feel like a rock star for the first 15 to 20 minutes. But after that, something else happens. You start to feel jittery and anxious. This caffeine crash isn’t surprising since after about 15 to 20 minutes your adrenaline and epinephrine levels start to drop while your cortisol levels stay up.
Consider this: using coffee to increase your energy levels is like using a credit card to buy something you cannot afford. It feels really good—until the bill arrives! In this case “the bill” is out-of-whack hormones, jitters, anxiety, and belly fat.
Approximately 52 to 92 percent of coffee beans tested positive for mold , and about 24 percent of the population is especially vulnerable to symptoms of mold toxicity .
What to do: Consider switching out coffee for organic black and green teas, which contain much less caffeine. Green tea, in particular, has many health benefits, including modest risk reduction of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, stroke, genital warts, and obesity .
Anxiety Hack 3: Learn to Say No
It’s safe to say that if you only had one thing to do every day you probably wouldn’t feel anxious or stressed out. If you think you are a stellar multitasker, guess again. Research shows that multitasking is associated with poor attention skills, depression, anxiety, and a decrease in gray matter density in the brain . This is why, as hard as it might be, it is so important that you learn how to say “no.” Often, we say yes simply because we do not want to hurt someone’s feelings or we feel we should be able to do all things for everyone all the time. However, living this way only exhausts you mentally, physically, and emotionally.
What to do: If you have a hard time saying no, you might find it easier to say, “Probably not” instead. For example, if you are asked to volunteer for something at your kid’s school but you know you can’t fit it in your schedule, you can say, “Probably not, but let me get back to you.”
Anxiety Hack 4: Pause and Breathe
Stress and anxiety cause shallow breathing (breathing high in the chest rather than low in the belly) because they trigger your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) to activate. Alternatively, lower belly breathing stimulates your vagus nerve, helping to counteract the sympathetic nervous system by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing also causes your body to release its own form of valium, a neurotransmitter called GABA (short for gamma-aminobutyric acid).
Deep breathing is even more beneficial when it is coupled with meditation or mindfulness. Meditation lowers cortisol levels and raises serotonin, the “happy” brain chemical in charge of your moods, sleep, and appetite.
What to do: Start with 5 minutes of deep breathing and meditation. Download the free trial of the popular app Head Space onto your smartphone, or simply take three belly breaths whenever you enter your passcode on a hand-held device. Even just a few seconds of quiet contemplation and deep breathing will help you hit the reset button.
Anxiety Hack 5: Try Yoga
Studies show that yoga is as or more effective than Xanax or Ativan. In Germany, a group of women with anxiety took two 90-minute yoga classes per week for 3 months and saw significant reductions in both anxiety symptoms and salivary cortisol levels . In another study from UCLA, women with mild depression were treated with yoga twice a week compared to a group who did not do yoga. The yoga group had significant improvements in mood and anxiety after only 2.5 weeks in class .
What to do: Start going to a yoga class once per week, and begin each day with “Just One Pose,” a free series of single poses that Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD created on YouTube. Often, movement is helpful for anxious people, rather than sitting on a cushion and trying to meditate.
Incorporate these 5 hacks to see if your anxiety lessens, or even that your need for medication falls away. Maybe you’ll need less Xanax to feel in the present moment. However, it is not recommended to stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting your clinician first. You might find that managing your cortisol and anxiety levels naturally works even better for you than medication, without unpleasant side effects. To learn more about how your hormones are affected by stress, food, and other factors, read Dr. Sara Gottfried’s book The Hormone Reset Diet.